At last, Manchester United can look back at a football match and take some positives from it.
Saturday night’s 4-1 win at Newcastle was comprehensive in the end. It provides them a much-needed boost in confidence levels ahead of a challenging run of fixtures, while it also means they’ve taken only their second win in four Premier League matches. It’s the first time this season United even deserved any points based on their level of performance.
There were several improved individual showings. Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes’ crucial combinations played a big part in victory, Juan Mata’s genius has rightly taken praise and Aaron Wan-Bissaka rattling one into the top corner was a pleasant surprise, but it’s Harry Maguire who may have pleased manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the most in the circumstances.
It’s been a rotten few months for the world’s most expensive centre half. His form on the pitch has been sketchy at best, and it would’ve been wildly naive of anyone to expect that what happened in Greece shortly after last season ended wouldn’t weigh on his mind upon his return.
It clearly has. Maguire has played like he’s been carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders since, with that baggage piling on top of a form dip which you can trace back to June’s restart.
Steven Bergwijn’s pace exposed Maguire’s limitations in a 1-1 draw with Spurs back then, and it seems barely a game has gone by since where the 27-year-old has made it through without the finger being pointed his way. The home defeat to Spurs two weeks ago was a new low, and featured Maguire and Eric Bailly playing a low-skilled version of head tennis in their own penalty area before conceding the opener.
Spurs would score five more times, and United sank without trace that day, captain Maguire unable to arrest the slump. He would crumble himself in his last outing as two silly yellow cards saw Maguire sent off in England’s match with Denmark, costing his country Nations League points. Calls were strong for him to be taken out of the firing line as he trudged off at Wembley, such was his reaction.
Supporters and some former players felt that was best for everyone, but it was a mark of Maguire’s character to stand up to the adversity and play as well as he did at Newcastle in response.
Perhaps it would have turned out differently but for David de Gea’s second-half miracle save and the performance wasn’t perfect, but this display and result could signal the start of a long road to recovery for a club and its captain who have been struggling with the weight of expectation.
Maguire was dominant in both boxes, with two key headers leading to his side’s first two goals. He scored himself from a first-half corner – something United fans have been crying out to see more of given how frequently he connects to attacking set-plays – and his crucial defensive header set the foundation for a swift counter attack to make it 2-1 late on.
A captain is meant to lead by example, and that was exactly what Harry Maguire managed to do at St. James’ Park after perhaps the most testing few months of his career to date.
There are plenty of bigger tests to come, starting Tuesday in Paris, but he might well just come through it stronger by doing what he did here – going back to basics and remembering what’s brought him to this position in the first place.
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